A unique chance to collaborate between the Environmental Extremes Lab (EEL) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has arisen and given one of our PhD students (Gregor Eichhorn) the chance to travel to West Africa and help with an international research project.

In the context of climate change, much of the world will experience extreme heat events and very little work is being done globally to understand the impact of these on maternal and fetal health. In areas where the options to adapt to the heat exposure are limited, a clearer understanding of the causes of poor birth outcomes as well options of adaptation strategies are sorely needed. 

Based at the MRC unit in The Gambia, research student Dr Ana Bonell is conducting an epidemiological observation of poor birth outcomes associated with maternal exposures to heat stress. The research project is based in Keneba, a small rural village in the mainland approximately 2.5 hrs away from the coast. The field station maintains excellent research laboratories as well as a clinic which provides outpatient-based services focused on maternaland child health.

The general objectives are to identify pregnant women exposed to heat when working outside in hot and humid conditions, characterise the physiological strain and determine any associations with fetal wellbeing during and after the pregnancy. The study will run over a period of 12 months and aims to recruit over 100 pregnant field workers in the West Kiang region. Participants will be assessed every two months using ultra sound, fetal growth measurements, blood and urine tests.

The EEL team member Gregor Eichhorn helped with the training of field staff which was responsible for the recruitment of participants and thereafter, the collection of anthropometric data, profiling of functional capacity, and physiological measures used to determine heat strain such as heart rate, core and skin temperature. He was also able to accompany the field workers during initial recruitment and a field testing day. “The temperature outside was around 30 °C and nearly 80% RH most of the days. Minimal bouts of activity like setting up a tarp for some shade cost a lot of sweat and energy. It is hard to imagine working outside in the garden or rice fields for hours in this type of environment yet alone for someone who is pregnant. There is no running water or electricity for the people here so cooling down becomes a lot more complicated in this region. Overall it was a great experience being out here and it helps to put things into perspective.”